Tolerance of Those Who Are Intolerant, Racist, and Bigoted

Many years ago, I was walking to shul on Shabbos with a Jewish friend and we were discussing anti-Semitism. At the time, there’d been a rise in world-wide attacks on synagogues and an increase in anti-Semitic propaganda. We talked about the futility of direct engagement with hateful intolerant racists and bigots.

I looked at my friend and said, “I think the best response to anti-Semitism is more Judaism.” Having more people living an authentic and compassionate Judaism engaged in acts of kindness and Tikkun Olam is the best antidote for anti-Semitism.

I’m not Jewish, but over the years I’ve periodically participated in the faith and found it to be thought provoking, inspiring, and a source of wisdom for how to live a more abundant life. During times of persecution, being intentional about supporting and connecting with Jewish community seems like a good thing to do. Promoting acceptance and understanding is always a good choice.

A few years ago, in one community suffering from a wave of anti-Jewish attacks, hundreds of households put menorahs in their windows as a gesture of solidarity. This also made it difficult for any one household to be singled out.

Unfortunately, ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and intolerance seem to be part of the same parasitic disease that has continued to harm humanity over the centuries. We imagine that society will advance beyond these things. That’s the hope at least. Yet, dormant intolerance rises again, like some kind of recurring skin rash.

Today, hate crimes against blacks are on the rise. Innocent unarmed black people are getting shot in the streets in broad daylight. “Someone call the police!” might be a reasonable response, except it’s the police who are doing the shooting.

Muslims are probably tied for first place with regard to persecution and being misunderstood, at least in America.

The LGBT community continues to struggle for their rights in the face of intolerance and hatred.

What’s the appropriate response?

Negative stereotypes and misrepresentations in the news serve as fertilizer for hatred and misunderstanding. So, an appropriate and effective response is to flood the media and social media with positive images and positive portrayals of blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays, and people from any other persecuted or misunderstood minority group. This can help counteract the negativity of harmful propaganda.

It’s important for young people growing up to have healthy and positive views about themselves and others. If you’re part of a minority group — it’s important to grow up seeing that you are part of a group that is prosperous, successful, accepted, and respected.

Positive portrayals in advertising, movies, television, and popular media can go a long way to instill confidence in young people, as explained in this quote from Whoopi Goldberg:

“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” ~ Whoopi Goldberg

If you’re part of the majority, it’s important to have repeated positive images and portrayals of minorities that you might not otherwise have contact with.

A recent high profile incident regarding LGBT intolerance is the story about Memories Pizza of Walkerton, Indiana. This is the restaurant that refused to cater a same-sex wedding. Overnight, the small town pizza shop became the target of a verbal firestorm of vitriolic language expressing anger and hatred over their intolerance of same-sex marriage. Their Facebook page continues to be inundated with hateful responses to their position on same-sex marriage.

In the midst of the backlash of anger, a lesbian couple from California sent a $20 donation to the pizza shop. According to a report in the Huffington Post on 18 April 2015:

Courtney Hoffman, who is a California resident, said she hoped her $20 donation would be seen as an apology for the “hate and intolerance” that has been directed at Memories Pizza, and added that she “fully” supports the pizzeria owners’ right to “stand up” for their beliefs, TheBlaze first reported.

“My girlfriend and I are small business owners, and we think there is a difference between operating in a public market space and then attaching the name of your business to a private event,” she said in the interview, which can be found here. “If we were asked to set up at an anti-gay marriage rally, I mean, we would have to decline.”

Hoffman, who operates a small kettle corn stand with her girlfriend, also noted, “If we can remember that differences don’t equal maliciousness, and try to find what we have in common … maybe we can move beyond threats of violence and have open discussions of the things that we don’t agree on.”

Courtney Hoffman’s action above is an excellent example of effective activism. It’s also a genuine and sincere act of kindness that hopefully can open doors, build bridges, promote understanding, and bring about positive social change.

It’s probably human nature to respond ‘in kind’ to whatever comes our way. If someone yells at us, we yell back. If they call us names, we call them names. The problem, of course, is that this causes us to get sucked into engaging in the very same behavior that we’re protesting.

It turns out that the owner of Memories Pizza is not vehemently anti-gay, but simply doesn’t support gay marriage. While that may sound moderately anti-gay to some people, there is a difference. Had the pizza owner met some nice married gay couples, he might have changed his stance on gay marriage. Unfortunately, voices of reason and and understanding were drowned out by all the hateful responses.

In the midst of these conflicts, I wonder to myself, “Why do we become intolerant of people who are intolerant of people to show that being intolerant is wrong?”

Courtney’s example reminds us to take the higher road. We can stop protesting what we’re against and instead boldly and bravely live out what we are for.



Additional Reflections

It’s relevant to point out that there’s a growing subculture of conservative evangelical Christians who probably feel that they are a misunderstood minority — being portrayed by the media as an extremist and hateful people who are bitter and “clinging to guns or religion.”

In April 2008, President Barack Obama stated about evangelical conservatives:

“…it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” (source)

Obama isn’t alone in this viewpoint. His statement reflects how conservative evangelicals are often portrayed by mainstream media.

In the same way the media focuses on Muslim religious extremists and militants, it also focuses on Christian religious extremists and militants. Religious conservatives (of any religion) are generally portrayed as angry, isolated, uneducated, and bitter — a group that nobody would want to belong to.

Interestingly, what are perceived to be the most ‘religious’ evangelicals are actually very outspoken against religion. There’s a belief among many Christians that religious structures of worship, thought, interaction, and living hinder the influence of the Holy Spirit. The subtleties and nuances of the faith and ‘a relationship with Jesus’ are found in living out a less religiously-structured worship and life of faith. Religion with its huge administrative top-down institutions, detailed doxology, and written prayer books becomes something larger and noisier than the still small voice — and thus a distraction.

In an interview on the Jon Stewart show, Mike Huckabee proclaimed “I’m a conservative, but I’m not angry about it.”

Huckabee was known for that statement because he’d use it in may speeches and television interviews. It was an important clarification to make since people like him are otherwise being portrayed as angry at the world.

There are many evangelical conservatives who aren’t uneducated, angry, or bitter. They just want to have the freedom to live their own life in a conservative religious way.

So, ironically, a group that’s often portrayed as the oppressor (conservative evangelicals), actually isn’t that large in number and is itself in danger of being an oppressed or misunderstood minority group. In some respects, conservative evangelicals are an endangered sub-culture that no longer have a cultural ecosystem to support and affirm its existence.

It’s not the case anymore that “the man” is keeping a certain group down, but we have disagreeing factions of minority groups and special interests who are all to some degree oppressed by another — fighting over jobs, political influence, and power.

What I Learned as a Radio Shack Store Manager

In the fall of 1986 I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Iowa. With a B.A. in Spanish, and having taken some courses in computer science, I wasn’t sure what my job prospects would be. My girlfriend at the time graduated a semester earlier than I, and had already moved to the San Francisco Bay area where we planned to live.

In December, shortly after graduating, I decided to start job hunting in California. At that time, the job market was tough, and finding something wouldn’t be easy. I had the disadvantage of not being there, and was without any connections in the area.

I looked at the job listings for the area. “Where to begin?” I thought, looking at the various positions available. In that moment, I knew what I wanted to do. Instead of taking what was available, Based on my own interests, I’d choose what business I wanted to work for and then see if they would hire me — even if no job openings existed. This was a strategy that worked for me on several occasions.

Back in 1979, about 7 years earlier, I was in 9th grade, and Radio Shack began selling the Tandy TRS-80 Model I computer. I’d always had an interest in audio systems and electronics, so I’d spend a lot of time at the Radio Shack stores learning about the latest gadgets, tools, and supplies. With computers now available in the store, I began spending a considerable amount of time there, writing software programs on the store computer. Before too long, I knew the store and products fairly well. I got to be a ‘regular’ in the store, and would sometimes help customers. I enjoyed engaging with customers and finding solutions to their needs.

Reflecting on this experience, I decided to see if I could get a job with Radio Shack in San Francisco. I called a store in the area to get the name and phone number of the district manager (the DM). His name was Steve. We ended up talking on the phone, and when he found out I was fluent in Spanish, had computer skills, and was from Iowa, he hired me over the phone to begin immediately — in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Mr. Nguyen, the manager of the store where I first worked, was from Vietnam. I was an assistant manager with hopes of having my own store one day.

Mr. Nguyen was an excellent manager to train under, and we had a really good team at the store. At that time, just about everyone worked on commission. Any tasks not related to making sales, became less of a priority. Cleaning the store, receiving orders, putting merchandise on the shelves, and helping customers with returns or repairs were less desirable tasks since employees weren’t rewarded for these tasks.

As an assistant manager, I was often left managing the store on my own. I decided to create multiple ‘departments’ in the store. So, when a customer needed repairs, rather than being left sniffing their underarms wondering why all the sales people were avoiding them, I’d immediately greet the customer saying, “Welcome! Let me have you work with Bob in our repairs department.”

There was a measure of absurdity in my assertion that we had departments in the store. Radio Shack isn’t JC Penny or Sears, but I wanted to step it up a notch. So, we had a ‘receiving department’ and a ‘custodial department.’ By giving employees accountability over each area, rather than trying to avoid tasks, they took ownership of them.

Based on how well they were doing in their respective areas of responsibility (those tasks with no commission or reward), I would make sure each employee was compensated. I’d wait until I had helped a customer with a huge sale, like a computer or home entertainment system, and then I’d ask Bob to complete the order. That meant Bob, our ‘repairs manager’ would get the commissions for that order.

I wasn’t too concerned about losing income. With so much experience in Radio Shack stores, I’d become a kind of Dancing Wu Li Master of sales. I had memorized every product in the store, and knew the catalog cover to cover. As if by magic, the pages would open to the product I was looking for.

Radio Shack had a training program called the 15 steps to selling. It was quite good, and done right actually could be an effective way to meet people’s needs without selling them stuff they didn’t need. Several of us decided not to focus on maximum sales (and income) but to focus instead on meeting people’s needs, and letting income take care of itself. This approach worked and people flocked to our store.

When a customer would walk in the door, they would begin saying something like, “Do you have…” or “I’m looking for…” and I would cut them off mid sentence and say, “Yes, we have that.” It was mostly for theatrics. Perplexed, they’d continue explaining their need as I gestured them to follow me. Listening to them closely, I’d navigate to the place in the store where we needed to be so that by the time they finished talking, I’d be standing in front of the very product they were looking for, and with a game show host hand gesture, present the item to them.

Occasionally my little stunt would backfire, and the customer would describe something we didn’t have the the store. The other sales people would look on, thinking, “What’s he going to do now?” I was determined to help everyone that came in the door. Sometimes it meant creating a solution by combining adapters and cables to do what the person wanted to do. On one occasion, I had to purchase a soldering kit to solve a customer’s need.

Because sales and commissions weren’t our first priority, and helping the customer was our focus, it didn’t matter how small the item was, or how long it might take to help the customer.

There was a rare occasion when we actually didn’t have what they were looking for. We’d never say, “We don’t have that. Sorry.” Instead, we’d get on the phone and find it for them.

I enjoyed the selling process, and finding just the right product for people. Sometimes we’d be out of a product. “We have just what you need,” I’d say confidently walking toward the display area. Then I’d wave my hand presenting the empty space on the shelf, “What you need is the XB500,” and with much enthusiasm I’d begin to describe all the features the XB500 had to offer. “I’ll buy it!” the customer would say. The entire sales process would transpire without a product. As a neighborhood store, people were happy to stop back a day or two later for items that needed to be ordered.

To make the job a little more fun, we’d use some hackneyed sales techniques and phrases, with exaggerated delivery of lines — like something out of a 1950s television commercial.

The District Manager would stop in and visit us regularly. So, he saw many of these antics, but acknowledge that although our approach was unconventional, it was effective.

Working with Radio Shack, normally it takes two or three years to get into your own store. The training process is lengthy, and a store needs to be available. Within about six months, I was promoted to manager and given my own store in Daly City.

It was a very narrow store with two levels, and not an ideal location. Next door was Matthew’s electronics and entertainment megastore. Inside the store, customers would be given wine and cheese, along with other hors d’oeuvres. Anyone purchasing a television or stereo system would be given a fully assembled bicycle. Matthew’s had a huge advertising budget, and their television commercials from the 1980s can still be found on YouTube.

One day I visited their store. “We’re not in the Mission District anymore,” I thought to myself as I looked around at one of the most impressive displays of electronics I’d ever seen.

“How could I compete with these guys?” I thought.

I saw this as a challenge and growing opportunity. As a teenager, I worked at my mom’s family business an learned a lot of good lessons about hard work and customer service. My mom and step-dad were two of the most successful business people I’ve known — measuring success by how well we care for and serve others. I knew if I could focus on meeting people’s needs, I’d do just fine managing my own store.

Matthew’s brought in customers from around the area who wanted to benefit from their selection and low prices. Sometimes the line would go out the door. Those who were impatient would visit my store instead.

Occasionally I’d get customers in my store because Matthew’s didn’t have what they were looking for. Sometimes I’d replied customer, “Yes, they have that. It’s near the speakers in the back on the right.” I’d memorized their product line and the location of all their merchandise, so sometimes I knew how to find items that newer sales people might not have known about. In these situations, I’d look to my employees and say, “I’ll be right back.” I’d then take the person over to Matthew’s and help them find what they were looking for — all while wearing my Radio Shack Store Manager name tag. The guys at Matthew’s found this quite entertaining. It helped defuse any competitive spirit between our stores. Eventually I had Matthew’s sending me their customers.

Whenever I didn’t have a product someone was looking for, I would continue the sale next door at Matthew’s.

A challenge for my little store was that to get to it from any distance, a person would drive by a dozen other Radio Shack stores. So, to broaden my store’s customer base, I had to do something extraordinary. Over time, word got around and people knew they could get an extra measure of service at our store. We’d get people from as far away as Oakland who would come to have their technical problems solved.

On one occasion, an elderly woman came into my store in search of a phonograph needle that would play 33 and 78 rpm records. Sometimes finding the right needle for a record player would take some effort. It wasn’t always clear what needle would fit. I’d maintained the policy of putting customer needs above commissions, so I wasn’t concerned that this $1 sale might take considerable time. At that moment, I’d be earning about 15 cents per hour. It didn’t matter. I patiently helped this woman, who was very grateful. In fact, she was so grateful that she wrote a letter to Tandy Corporation Headquarters in Texas. That letter got back to my District Manager.

That was a highlight of my career with Radio Shack, and a good way to start off my professional life as a young adult.

I still think back on everything I learned through these various experiences and try to apply those lessons today.


The Ineffectiveness of Procrastination

Procrastination is partly a desire to reduce our work and effort, at least in the moment. Yet, by postponing inevitable work until later, we’re usually doing a disservice to our future self.

There are many areas of life where the “put it off until later” attitude results in less effective outcomes. Here are some examples…

  • Waiting until the dishes absolutely need to be done, and then cramming them all into the dishwasher piled one on top of the other reduces the efficiency of the dishwasher. At that point, dried on food is difficult to remove.
  • Paying credit cards later results in higher fees.
  • Waiting until the car doesn’t run and then taking it to a mechanic, when’s so much damage has been done that major repairs are needed.
  • Only studying the night before an exam without studying throughout the year won’t produce the best results.
  • Rushing through a project shortly before a deadline and not giving it the time and breathing space needed to create something innovative and high quality.

Preventative approaches to every area of life have a huge impact cumulatively and result in a better quality of life with less stress.